The photo to the left explains the popularity of the Hipstamatic application for the iPhone. But other than that, it's a photo of Joyce Carol Oates and her beloved husband Raymond Smith from outside their home in Windsor, Ontario in 1970, about nine years after they were married.
The photograph is from Ms. Oates personal collection and was posted to The New Yorker's website to accompany the publication of Ms. Oates memoir of her husband's death -- and I highly recommend you read the article from the December 13, 2010 issue.
Ms. Oates has a special place in my heart for three reasons.
1. Most importantly, she is an amazing writer who has has proven she can write anything, froma Gothic Romance to a study on the sweet science of boxing. Her writing is lovely and stories always capture my imagination.
2. & 3. She's ... odd, prolific, and oddly prolific. I was blessed with the opportunity to cross paths her a couple of times. My first job in NYC was at E.P.Dutton, one of her publishers. One publisher was not enough to keep up with her. While I worked at Dutton, she published two sizable novels, Bellfleur and Angels of Light. Inbetween, there were the short stories, criticism, novellas and her work on husband Smith's journal, Actually there was so much work to published, she put two different pen names to work in addition to her own. Oh, and the poetry. Oh, and there was her own literary journal, The Ontario Review. --Oh, and there was the full-time gig at Princeton. Because she was so busy, and because her audience isn't really susceptible to media hype, Ms. Oates didn't do many interviews, but she did a radio interview while I was there that was organized by one of my bosses, Jean Rawitt. Ms. Rawitt returned to the office following the interview and the legendary Lois Shapiro, the director of pulicity at Dutton (and latter The Free Press), asked Ms. Rawitt how it went. Apparently, according to Jean, the interviewer asked Ms. Oates how it was she was able to produce such a prodigious volume of work. Ms. Oates replied that it wasn't hard at all, she just typed up what the voices in her head had to say. --And that was the end of the interviews for a while.
And I admire someone who, in the course of their profession, transcends this grey, slumbering realm and enters into another world that is obviously more alive and vibrant and, of course, imaginative and vivid. And this is how I usually select my favorite artists. Can an ordinary human, scuffling around here in the shadows, create art on the order of Moby Dick? The Ring of the Nibelung? Bach's Cello Sonatas? Leaves of Grass? The second side of Abby Road? Obviously, I don't think so. At the very least, these works result from -- at least -- a dialog between the artist and a higher power and, more likely, a visit to this other realm where, like this Prometheus, she steals some fire and, on return to here, some spark survives. And the artist tends after the ember until she's able to fan it into flame.
Ms. Oates is a wild and uncontrollable force whose gusts ignites all those tiny sparks she tends to with such loving care. I've always worried about her because, she's so small, so thin-boned, those gust would snap her or that such flames would consume her. But, just like the thin-boned bird, her wings carry her above us all. Amen.